It isn’t easy being a somewhat normal Western size in an Asian world.
Don’t believe me? Try being five, 10, 15, 20 pounds overweight and then it is apparent. After living in Thailand for more than 19 months, I promise, that reality regularly slaps me in the face.
Because I am 30 pounds overweight. By American standards, I fall into the category of being plus-size. Here, I fall into the category of 2XL. Yes, I am a fat girl in Thailand.
“Oh, why you so pom pui?” People ask me. Strangers. Friends. You name it.
I thought one of the first words I would learn in Thailand would be how to ask someone’s name, or how to ask for directions. But, nope. One of the first words I learn other than “drunk” is pom pui or “fat.”
And that is because everyone asks me why I am fat. Or tells me I am fat. Or says I am soai or beautiful in Thai, followed by pom pui.
Fat AND beautiful. Now, that is a nice backhanded compliment. Thankyouverymuch.
The first time someone said those words to me, I was aghast.
Unlike in Western cultures, weight here isn’t one of those hush-hush things. It’s an in-your-face thing. Comments people make here that would make me cry if someone Western was saying it simply roll off my back. Or, they try to roll off my back.
After awhile, those “you’re fat” comments begin to take a toll.
Skinny is everywhere in Thailand. If you’re above a size eight (and I think I’m being quite forgiving when I say that), you won’t be able to find cute clothes. I’m a size 10 or 12 (depending on the day), and yeah, shopping at the department stores leaves me feeling defeated when I look at a pair of pants that can’t even fit an arm through the leg, let alone my ass.
The only place I can shop is Tesco Lotus, and then it is clothing that is more like a tent than anything cute and form-fitting.
I’ve always battled with being overweight, and here in Chiang Mai, it is a constant reminder of those battles.
There was once a time when I managed to drug my body enough to shrink down to a size four. It was almost a decade ago and in Las Vegas – a city where looks can be a driving force in success. I wasn’t stupid. Being a publicist and always having to look good made me think long and hard about my extra pounds. Here I was, starting a new life in Vegas (!) but slugging along the weight of a young child attached to my body.
So, I did what I thought I needed to do. I worked with a shady doctor who I did PR for (“It will boggle your mind how fat you are!”) and took his potent cocktail of diet pills and shots, and dropped 50 pounds in around eight months. Some friends referred to me as the “Incredible Shrinking Women” and with that mix of pills coursing through my veins, I really was.
Of course, the chemically-induced weight loss had physical repercussions. My heart raced. My vision got blurry. I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of food. But, dammit, I was skinny. I was popular. I had men all around me. I had the approving smiles of women who saw my “before” and “after” and were proud.
But, I also had the mental repercussions. I had my little pill-popping secret. I knew that once I stopped taking them, I would balloon back. I would lose the attention of the opposite sex. I would have to squeeze back into my “fat” clothes.
Eventually, I did stop the pills and I did gain the weight back.
A couple of years later, I decided I would go about weight loss the healthy way – I’d work out. Once again the weight came off, but then I grew depressed with the life I was living. With weight loss, you are either in or you are out, and I fell out. Hard. I’d eat Papa John’s, McDonalds, Cadbury Eggs. Whatever I could put into my body because although I didn’t have control over how I felt, I could have control over what I ate.
Cue weight gain.
This happened in cycles for years and spanned two American cities, a seven-month trip to Europe, and back to America … and eventually becoming an expat in Thailand.
When I moved to Thailand, I was the heaviest I had ever been. Standing in front of the mirror in my room, looking at myself naked … I would burst into tears.
I. Am. So. Fat.
Thoughts would race through my mind. I will never find someone to kiss me again. I will never find someone to sleep with again. I will never find someone to love me.
The worst part about living in Thailand and being overweight is living in Thailand and being a Western woman. The chances of finding a guy are nearly zero.
I’ve always operated with the belief that beauty is everywhere … that I shouldn’t have to be skinny to fall in love or to have someone fall in love with me. That no one should be anyone they are not … that as people, we are all gorgeous, whether skinny, fat, short, tall, etc. I’ve dated men who I wasn’t initially attracted to, but as I got to know them, they turned into the world’s hottest people.
Attraction is important, yes. But, there are other things, too. And, I always held tight to the belief that people would like me simply for me. For my heart. For my mind. For my passion. Not because I am or am not a size four.
I guess I’m not everyone.
The pounds began to fall off. A total change in diet (cutting out meat) — along with sweltering heat and sweating my weight out of me daily — dropped the scale about 20 pounds. But, it didn’t matter. People saw me the same. Pom pui.
And soon, it became just a part of my life. Everyone commenting (and I mean everyone — strangers, friends, people I see everyday and can only exchange bits of broken Thai or English), even when their comments were not asked for or welcomed.
I have no idea why anyone thinks it is OK to tell someone they would be so much prettier/better/etc. if they weren’t fat.
Why is it OK for someone to give someone their opinion about what makes them “not worthy” of being loved? And since when does weight become the single most important factor in any part of life?
I know people here don’t mean it to cause pain. It is either no big deal since calling someone “fat” is normal, or they tell me because they think it can help me become a better me. But that doesn’t mean it just rolls off my back. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact my self-esteem. Or the way I feel about myself.
Today, I’ve grown accustomed to being “fat” even though my weight continues to drop. Men here still don’t look at me. And, I still get judged as to the person I am based on my clothing size.
Is it disheartening? Yes. Is it defeating? Yes. Is it life? Sadly, so long as I live here, it is. No amount of weight loss … no amount of lifestyle change will ever amount to me having the Thai version of a perfect body.
While it used to make me sad (hence, staring at the mirror in tears), today I look at myself and think “If you don’t like me for who I am, cellulite and all, then please. Do me a favor. Shut your mouth and go find a skinny woman who will be your everything.”
Because I am worth more than my weight.
At the same time, I also know I want to be healthy. I want to have the confidence I had when I was a size four without being a size four (because, really, it just looks ridiculous on me). I want to look at myself and believe I am beautiful, even if the people around me don’t see the beauty I possess.
Today, I want to push myself to be the best version of me I can be, and give myself the best version of the life I am living. I enrolled in a gym. I hired a personal trainer. Drinks are cut down to twice a week. Smoking is going to stop.
Either I will be a fat girl in Thailand and embrace it, or I will do my damned best to be the not-so-fat girl in Thailand and love myself. Because, you know what? I deserve it.